I speak regularly with a number of executives across industries, geographies and nationalities in the course of my work as a head hunter. I am surprised by how many of them seem quite unaware that their careers are showing signs of plateauing or what to do about it. This article aims to offer executives tips on what steps they can take to prevent their careers from plateauing.
What actions you can take to minimize the risk of hitting a plateau in your career
- The most important step is to shed any sense of denial or complacence and get ready to take decisive action. Accept that there is truth in the saying “nothing ventured, nothing gained”.
- Look for new roles within the organization or outside. A useful rule of thumb is to stay in an organization for a maximum of three roles or say around 7.5-8 years. Unless you constantly get new and exciting opportunities because you are seen as a “high potential”, it may be time to move on to roles outside the organization.
- As preparation for senior management roles in the future, it is vital that you broad-base your experience as much as you can. This means moving outside your zone of comfort. Do not limit yourself to roles in line with your past experience. Seek out roles that complement your existing expertise by giving you exposure to new markets/geographies or new responsibilities or allow you to develop new capabilities. For example, if you have experience in Supply Chain Management, explore opportunities in Manufacturing. If you are a Marketing leader, give Sales a shot (or move from Brand development to Marketing operations). Look for roles that build your ability to manage people and teams, foster collaboration, resolve conflicts and deliver tangible business value (e.g. P&L growth or successful launch of a new product or entry into a new market etc.). Managing ambiguity, leading complex projects or leading culturally diverse, globally distributed teams are also key competencies that you should look to acquire. If you’ve been a Line Manager, get Staff experience- and vice versa; that way, you get to build a mix of strategic as well as tactical perspectives. I am not saying that being selected to such a role is easy- but if you possess enough “horizontal” capabilities (that are relevant across functions/roles/industries), you improve your odds of being able to successfully get hired.
- Do not hesitate to seek help from mentors or coaches. Head hunters too can be a useful source of information and advice. Especially about the culture of new organizations that you may be considering. This is important because you should look to join organizations with which you are culturally compatible so that you are empowered to give of your best.
- If you have worked for an organization for say six or seven years and have done fairly well, a sense of blind loyalty tends to creep in. This is dangerous because it can prevent you from seeing, acknowledging, analyzing and acting on signals. Your career is an asset you have invested in. Just as past performance of mutual funds or company stocks does not assure future performance, unless you constantly reinvent yourself by acquiring new skills and capabilities, it would be unwise and unrealistic to expect that you will remain on a high growth trajectory.
Do consider that this advice comes with some sacrifice and extra commitment from a personal level. These are the trade offs that come into play when you want to reach the highest positions in a company structure.